03.31.21

Dr. Howard Henderson Testifies Before the House Committee on the Judiciary on Controlled Substances: Federal Policies and Enforcement

Dr. Howard Henderson Testifies before the House Committee on the Judiciary on Controlled Substances: Federal Policies and Enforcement

“Federal drug policy continues to perpetuate systems of inequality and domination that, in many ways, mirror Jim Crow-like forms of control, ultimately violating basic human rights.” – Dr. Howard Henderson.

As we wrap up National Criminal Justice Month, we highlight Howard Henderson, PhD, professor of justice administration and Founding Director of the Center for Justice Research (CJR) at Texas Southern University who appeared before the U.S House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on March 11 to provide expert testimony on the impact of federal drug policies on the criminalization of people of color.

Dr. Henderson’s testimony offered an overview of the evolutionary impact of federal drug policies on Black communities with a suggested equity-based framework for the reframing of federal drug policies.

In his testimony, Dr. Henderson underscored CJR’s mission to reduce mass incarceration, which can directly result from unjust drug policy. CJR, one of the Center for Advancing Opportunity’s research centers, connects and applies academic thought to practical challenges, resulting in culturally-responsive, evidence-supported justice reform-oriented solutions.

“Rather than viewing unequal treatment in drug policy as a result of racism per se,” Dr. Henderson began his testimony. “It should be understood that such inequality is in part a continuation of the historical process of cultural, institutional and structural oppression.”

Dr. Henderson explained that federal drug policy has deep historical and institutional roots that predate the 1960s.

“I posit that the contemporary American federal drug policy, and its relationship to racial inequality, is only the latest chapter in an unremitting narrative in which the drug legislation constitutes the middle ground of a race and class-stratified social order.”

“The objective of my testimony is not to say that the situation has remained unchanged from our America of old,” Dr. Henderson continued. “But our current racialized social order is not wholly divorced from the past.”

CJR’s culturally responsive research and data looks at the best approaches to structural, institutional and cultural criminal justice reform, advocating for race, ethnicity and class-based equity within the criminal legal system.

“Federal drug policies have helped create, recreate and manage a racialized ‘problem population’ or ‘dangerous class’ pushed to the margins of the labor market and political priority.

In essence,” Dr. Henderson concluded, “these policies have helped to maintain the ‘color line.’”

Later, Dr. Henderson recommended a reframing of our thinking on this issue, one that focuses on harm reduction.

He pointed to the successful LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program, which allows officers to divert individuals to treatment and social services. The model that was piloted in Seattle has yielded significant positive results. Individuals who have been diverted to these programs have been found to be almost 60% less likely to be rearrested when you compare them to individuals who went through traditional criminal justice programs.

“We know it works, he said. “The challenge that we have now is getting people to begin to adopt an alternative philosophy to social control.”

Read Howard Henderson’s full Written Statement of the Record